Guest Column
What is the Republican plan for Social Security? | Column
The Democrats don’t have a great idea, but at least they have one. Something needs to be done.
In this photo illustration, a Social Security card sits alongside checks from the U.S. Treasury.
In this photo illustration, a Social Security card sits alongside checks from the U.S. Treasury.
Published Aug. 19, 2023

Quiet quitting on the job has become the rage of the workforce. The phrase refers to employees who do as little work as possible while keeping their job and the paychecks coming.

For those who live in Florida, the most visible example of this work strategy is the Republican Party and its occupational obligations to oversee the long-term stability of Social Security. The party as a whole has promised to save and protect Social Security, without shedding any light on what a saved Social Security might look like.

Brenton Smith
Brenton Smith [ Provided ]

That is the least amount of work possible to keep the paychecks coming — but not long term.

Given the latest projections from the trustees of the program, the retirement system of Social Security under current law is apt to pay scheduled benefits into 2033, at which point benefits would be reduced by 20-25%. The forecast means that the average 79-year-old expects to outlive the system’s ability to pay scheduled benefits — even in a relatively robust economy.

In response to this outlook, GOP candidates running for office tell us what they will not do, without any hint of how the program will pay its bills over the longer term.

While Democrats warn voters that the GOP will put Social Security on the chopping block, there is little evidence that Republicans have any plan for the program. The last time that the Social Security Administration reviewed a major GOP reform proposal was at the end of 2016, about a month or so before the final recess of the 114th Congress.

Basically, the GOP has called in sick for nearly a decade.

The party as a whole appears to have followed the lead of former President Donald Trump, who campaigned in 2016 on the promise of no changes to Social Security. Trump kept his word on Social Security to terrifying effect. Over the course of his term, the erosion of the program’s finances accelerated, leaving an extra $8 trillion in broken promises in his wake.

Today, Trump’s opponents have at best offered lukewarm ideas about changes for younger workers. Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, said, “We are talking about making changes for people in their 30s or 40s so that the program’s viable.”

If the GOP hopes to protect those 78 and younger from benefit cuts, it means that the party will have to come up with more revenue. Where is this money coming from?

Just because the GOP is out of ideas does not mean that they do not have a job. Politics is the art of shaking hands and scratching backs until there is some middle ground on which people can generally agree.

As Republicans have stood to the side, Democrats have formed some consensus for a new direction for Social Security, one that is completely inconsistent with the history of the program. Originally, former President Franklin D. Roosevelt demanded a structure where everybody who paid into Social Security was eligible for benefits. He did not want “his program” to be seen as “welfare” but as something that people had earned.

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For the past 80 years, “earned benefits” have been the greatest protection that Social Security offers. They protect seniors from an annual debate about who does and who does not need benefits.

Every proposal coming from Democrats would expand Social Security’s revenue base to high-income savers — who would pay Social Security taxes on investment income even if they had no earnings from a job — to fill in the gaps between what was actually earned by retirees over their working career and whatever sum that Congress decides to pay. Once the program requires a subsidy from the wealthy, the concept of earned benefits is gone.

At this point, Republicans have a job, either agree with the new direction offered by the opposition, or provide voters with some reasonable explanation for their opposition.

Republicans do not really hate Social Security. They simply lack a vision for the role that it plays in the life of everyday Americans.

Brenton Smith writes on the issue of Social Security reform in Barron’s, Forbes, MarketWatch, TheHill, USAToday and more. He can be reached at